Pacific Dance Festival 2016: Tama Toa
Iosefa Enari, Director of Pacific Dance New Zealand has been working tirelessly for the last ten years to give young emerging Pacific choreographers the opportunity to refine their craft through participating in dance fono, mentoring programmes and choreographic labs. Three of the beneficiaries of the choreolab initiative have recreated their works for this programme which is part of the inaugural Pacific Dance Festival. This two-day season, entitled Tama Toa features only male choreographers and is followed by the women's choreographic season entitled Wahine Toa.
Leki Jackson Bourke who first participated in the 2014 Choreolab has created a striking work in Behold the Coconut (the literal translation of “Niue”) which taps into the inherent ferocity of male Niuean dance contrasting this with a softer aesthetic and supported by strong singing and drumming. Dressed in traditional leaf skirts, with leg and arm bands also made of leaves, the five men periodically explode into a frenzied, jumping, open-sided, stomp dance. They then crouch low to the ground, glowering with menace as they rock slowly from side to side. It is disquieting, but the charged energy of the work and the dancers’ intense focus is compelling. Bourke also mixes Samoan and Tongan dance into the work and dispenses with the traditional lines of staging in favour of fractured placements.
Tall Poppy created by 2015 Choreolab participant Hadleigh Pouesi who is of Samoan/Maori/Pakeha heritage, is created in an altogether more reflective mode, utilising a full cast of ten dancers (men and women) from hip-hop group, Freshman’s Crew, who interact with interesting lifts, articulations and weight supporting moves. Every so often a lone figure moves among them, before standing motionless in the front, focused on an external point. Sometimes everyone’s focus is also drawn to that point, suggesting aspirational motivation.
Samoan choreographer and dancer Tupua Tigafua who originally participated in the 2012 Choreolab creates a humorous work We Shall See Shel on the Seashore, inspired by the multi-talented cartoonist and writer Shel Silverstein. Dancing himself, together with a group of four men Tigafua choreographs some strong rhythmic sequences, which he intersperses with slapstick shenanigans and the use of several props. He utilises a contemporary vocabulary that is fresh and appealing and then slightly undercuts its impact by the use of humour. The result is subversive in its intent and altogether unexpected.
The Tama Toa programme is short but succeeds in highlighting the diversity of the men’s choreographic approaches. Enari has accomplished what amounts to a breaking down of stereotypes of what can be labelled “Pacific Dance”. The multiple ethnicities of this broad grouping are reflected in the variety of choreographic voices on offer.